HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Since he was acquired late in 2020, Abaan has transitioned from prospect to project to a consistent runner, who will make his graded stakes debut Saturday in the W. L. McKnight Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
The $200,000 McKnight for 4-year-olds and up going 1 ½ miles on turf, will be contested for the 55th time on Gulfstream’s blockbuster Pegasus World Cup Invitational program. The sixth renewal of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) presented by 1/ST BET on dirt, the fourth running of the Pegasus World Cup Turf presented by Baccarat, both at 1 1/8 miles, and the inaugural $500,000 TAA Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3) presented by PEPSI comprise the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series. The 12-race program features seven graded stakes worth $5.2 million in purses.
Trainer Mike Maker, who has won four of the last five editions of the McKnight, will saddle three of the 12 starters: last year’s runner-up, Temple, King Cause and Glynn County
Abaan easily handled his first stakes try on Christmas Eve, leading from gate to wire in Gulfstream’s H. Allen Jerkens, at two miles, an unusually long race on the flat in the America. Under Luis Saez, he won by 4 ½ lengths as the 7-5 favorite.
“He seems to have kind of found his niche in these marathon turf races,” said Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. “We’ll be backing up off the two-mile race but he’s done well since then.”
Abaan and Saez will start from Post No. 10 in the McKnight, which drew a full field and three horses that landed on the also-eligible list.
Winless in three starts in 2020, Abaan was a part of a four-horse package that Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Alex Daigneault purchased from Shadwell.
“He was a lightly raced 3-year-old when we acquired him and he’d shown some talent on the dirt,” said Eclipse president Aron Wellman. “He was still a maiden, so he had all of his conditions available, which was attractive to us.
Wellman said that Abaan experienced a setback that delayed his debut for his new connections.
“We gave him time off and gelded him, which has really aided him in progressing the way he has,” Wellman said. “He’s still a handful and he has his moments, but Todd and his team have done an awesome job keeping him controlled and channeling his significant ability.” Abaan was a well-beaten fifth in a dirt sprint at Saratoga on July 17 then finished second in a $75,000 maiden claimer on turf. “He ran well and then things really started to fall into place for him on the turf and extending to marathon distances.” Wellman said. Abaan, a son of Will Take Charge out of the Tapit mare Anchorage, has found is best surface: grass.
“He just seemed to take to it,” Pletcher said. “He performed OK on the dirt but he seemed to take a step forward on the turf. I think he appreciates these longer races. He’s just kind of got a high cruising speed like he did in the Jerkens and just keeps churning away. I think he’s already proven that he can handle pretty much anything from a mile and an eighth to two miles.”
The W.L. McKnight Handicap was named to honor businessman, philanthropist, breeder and owner Willam L. McKnight, who died in 1978 at the age of 90. He rose through the ranks from bookkeeper to become the chairman of the 3M Corporation. He was president from 1929 to 1949, was chairman from 1949 through 1966 and honorary chairman until 1972.
McKnight founded and owned Tartan Farms in Ocala, which was a leader in the development of breeding in Florida, and raced as Tartan Stables. Among his stars, developed under the guidance of John Nerud, were Dr. Fager, Ta Wee and Dr. Patches. His daughter Virginia McKnight Binger bred Unbridled, who was sold as a weanling.
Last year, Maker broke a tie with Pletcher, to become the winningest trainer in the McKnight when Tide of the Sea gave him his fourth victory. Maker won the race three years in a row, 2017-2019, then finished second by a neck with Cross Border in 2020. He has had at least one runner in the McKnight since it was moved from Calder to Gulfstream in 2014 (the race was not held in 2016) and has had at least one horse in the top three in the last six runnings. Only one of Maker’s McKnight’s winners was the favorite: Zulu Alpha in 2019, who won the Pegasus Turf in 2020.
Maker claimed many of the horses he has turned into grass stakes winners. He picked up Temple for $35,000 in July 2019 and the Temple City gelding finished in the top three in 10 of his 17 starts for Maker. Seven of them were in stakes. Maker lost Temple by claim in June, but re-acquired him by claim in on Nov. 19. He will be making his first start since Dec. 5 in the McKnight. Temple will start from the rail under new rider Umberto Rispoli.
King Cause, owned by Nice Guys Stable, was moved to Maker’s barn late last summer. He won his most recent start, an allowance at Aqueduct on Nov. 11. The McKnight will be his first graded stakes race on turf and first run beyond 1 1/8 miles. He finished off the board in four graded stakes on dirt as a 3-year-old in 2018. Jose Ortiz, who was up for the win at Aqueduct, will be aboard when the 7-year-old gelding leaves from Post No. 5.
Three Diamond Farms picked up its first win in the McKnight last year with Tide of the Sea and is aiming for another visit to the winner’s circle with Glynn County. Last year, the now 5-year-old Kitten’s Joy horse had a pair of graded stakes placings: third in the Mr. D (G1) and third in the Turf Cup (G2) at Kentucky Downs. He will start from Post 9 with Tyler Gaffalione, who won the 2017 McKnight on the Maker-trained Taghleeb.
Trainer Rusty Arnold entered a pair on the McKnight, BBN Racing and Ashbrook Farm’s Bama Breeze and Chrysalis Stable’s homebred Farmington Road. Jockey Emisael Jaramillo will be up on Farmington Road leaving Post 3. Farmington Road, a son of Quality Road, was on the Triple Crown trail in 2020 and finished eighth in the Belmont Stakes (G1). He was moved to turf for his next start and promptly picked up a victory. He was switched to Arnold’s care last fall and in his lone start for his new barn finished second in a dirt optional claimer at Churchill Downs.
Bama Breeze by Honor Code will start from Post 6 with Corey Lanerie up. In his most recent start he was fourth in the Sycamore (G3) on Oct. 22 at Keeneland.
Calumet Farm trainer Jack Sisterson entered a pair of homebreds in the McKnight, Flying Scotsman and In Effect. In Effect landed in Post 11 with Reylu Gutierrez. Flying Scotsman, a 6-year-old son of English Channel, tops the also-eligible list.
Sisterson said that if Flying Scotsman draws into the race he will be on the lead. In Effect is a closer, who was ninth of 12 in a troubled trip in the Tropical Park Derby on Dec. 26.
“He did not have the best of trips,” Sisterson said. “He got stopped several times. He came out of the race and worked very well. He was third in the Hall of Fame (G2), and a troubled third. I thought he definitely should have been second in that race. He’s shown the talent that he’s well capable of winning a graded race. We’ll be stretching him out, too. He makes one run, so if they go quick enough up front, which Flying Scotsman might help with, he’ll definitely be coming with a run.”
Oriental Trigger, an Argentinian-bred who began his career in Chile, arrives at the McKnight two weeks after winning a mile optional claimer on the dirt at Gulfstream at odds of 25-1. The lightly raced 5-year-old finished second in a Group 1 turf sprint in October 2020. He will ridden from Post 2 by Hector Berrios.
Trainer Yvon Belsour is trying Bruno Schickedanz’ Mandate at 1 ½ miles for the first time in the gelding’s 20th career start. Mandate scored at 44-1 in the one-mile Artie Schiller on Nov. 13 at Aqueduct. Emma-Jayne Wilson will ride the 5-year-old son of Blame from Post 7.
Bakers Bay has found a home on turf since Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey moved him to the surface in Sept. 2020. He has three wins and a third in seven starts, and was fifth in his lone stakes start, the 1 ½ miles Louisville (G3) on May 15. Junior Alvarado and Bakers Bay will leave from Post 8.
Sole Volante will start from the outside post in the field in his attempt to break a nine-race losing streak for co-owners Reeves Thoroughbreds and Andie Biancone. The 5-year-old Karakontie gelding started his career with a pair of victories on turf, had success on dirt as a 3-year-old, but trainer Patrick Biancone has moved him back to the grass. In his most recent start he was sixth in the Fort Lauderdale (G2) on Dec. 18.
Gulfstream Park Press Release
Photo: Abaan wins Gulfstream’s H. Allen Jerkins (Ryan Thompson Photo)